Just Say No to Pathetic Panels

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panel discussionPanels are supposed to inject some interactivity and engagement, but all too often they’re just awful. Kerry Bennett has some ideas that can help.

Panel discussions are a conference staple, and yet, they all too often are, well, in the words of Upfront Ventures Marketing Partner Kerry Bennett, “terrrrrrrrible.” In a LinkedIn post that has garnered 85 comments so far, she adds, “I’ve been on terrible panels and I’m sure I’ve produced some bad ones too…most panels bring the energy down.”

Kerry Bennett, Upfront Ventures
Kerry Bennett, Marketing Partner, Upfront Ventures

With Bennett’s permission, here is her advice on how to make panel discussions less terrible:

• Four people plus a moderator is IMO too many people. Three + mod is better. Four means either one or two are not as strong and you wish they weren’t speaking, or everyone’s great and then no one has enough time.

  • Choose panelists wisely. The smartest people are not always the best panelists. Make sure they are great to listen to in person.

• Do not let people introduce themselves. You will want to, but resist the urge. Everyone takes too long, it’s awkward and sales-y, and it doesn’t impart any wisdom/insight/interesting content during the precious moments when the audience is deciding whether to listen or to look up the USWNT Olympic roster on their phone. Let the moderator give a 30-second or less introduction.

Seriously. NO INTROS. Auntie Kerry supports your hard line on this. (So does Mark Suster who has long driven this point home at the Upfront Summit.)

• Going down the row of speakers with each question is a snoooooooze. Pick questions that showcase one or two speakers and move them around, making sure everyone has the chance to shine.

• Try to thread the session as a discussion. Because when someone answers a question and the moderator says, “yeah, that’s great. So — my next question…” — the energy totally dies. Encourage panelists to engage with each other. Don’t let people monologue.

• No one wants a sales pitch for anything. Encourage panelists to tell stories, give examples, provide value to the listeners. This seems obvious and yet!

• Lastly — don’t forget that this is a panel for the audience as well as the speakers. Make sure the content, stories, angles and depth of discussion will leave listeners inspired, informed, entertained, or hopefully all three.

She finishes her post with, “Okay, get out there and make some less terrible panels!”

Read the full post, and lots more suggestions in the comments, here.

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